Though this time of year is usually focused on the latest and greatest technology as companies push new designs and innovations onto the market just in time for holiday shopping, for some people, the best gift you can give is assistance repairing a treasured piece of old-school tech. From vintage radios to 8-track players to first generation laptops, it seems every piece of technology has a fan club out there somewhere eager to keep an old-favorite alive and kicking. Whether you are trying to fix up childhood favorite or tinkering with an eBay find, the power of the internet is your best friend when it comes to vintage tech.
Last year I shared information on hacking an old Weltron 8-track player to work with an iPod, a project that taught me a little bit about how to repair a piece of vintage tech with absolutely no knowledge or skills in that area.
No matter the tech involved, your first course of action should be to search the web for your piece to see what kind of community of aficionados exists, and what resources are available online to help make your repair job easier. If you aren't certain exactly what is wrong, a web search can help you identify common problems that can help pinpoint your focus. I learned that the non-fuctional 8-track in my piece was likely the result of a broken belt, a theory confirmed when I found a bunch of old rubber bits floating loose inside the radio.
If you are hoping to repair an old radio, an excellent starting point is Sam's Technical Publishing; Sam's has been putting out repair manuals and schematics for radios, TVs and other technology since the 1940s. For an investment of about $20, you can download a copy of the original Sam's manual for your vintage tech. Of course, this might be more helpful if you have some baseline skills in repair, but it might also help you identify exactly what you need to learn to do in order to be successful
Another excellent resource for repairing vintage technology is the public library. Lots of library systems have an excellent collection of books on home, car and other repairs, and at least at my local library, these books have been lingering on the shelves for decades. If your library is anything like mine, you might be surprised what kind of interesting vintage repair books are available.
If you have an old computer that you love (or in my case that your dad loves and refuses to abandon) your most valuable resource may be a group of like-minded fans. When I needed to up the memory and the hard drive space on my father's 380Z laptop, I found a group online devoted to old IBMs who helped me ID the necessary equipment; without their help, I would never have known that the original motherboard could accept a dramatically larger hard drive.
My experiences with the Weltron and with keeping old computers running has taught me the importance of eBay in the quest to repair vintage technology. The new belts necessary to get my 8-track working? Found them on eBay along with the converter that allowed me to play cassettes and ultimately my iPod through the Weltron speakers. The new memory and hard drive for the 380z? Again, an inexpensive find on eBay.
If you are keeping your vintage tech alive, we would love to hear about your favorite resources. If on the other hand, you have an old favorite you would love to get working again, let us know in the comments and we'll see if the community can help. After all, a remastered favorite can make for a great (and economical) gift this holiday season.